Paul Kelly O'Connor was born in 1941. He graduated from high school in 1959 and soon afterwards enlisted in the United States Navy. He was based at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and was expecting to take part in the Bay of Pigs invasion before President John F. Kennedy cancelled the action.
On his return to the United States O'Connor applied for a a place at the Medical Technology School that was part of Bethesda Naval Hospital. He attended classes from 7.30 am to 5.00 pm and work duty from 5.00 pm to 6.00 am the next day. O'Connor was assigned to the pathology department. Over the next few months he assisted in around sixty autopsies.
When John F. Kennedy was assassinated on 22nd November, 1963, his body was taken to Bethesda. Along with fellow student, James C. Jenkins, Paul O'Connor was asked to assist Joseph Humes, Thornton Boswell and Pierre Finck in the autopsy of Kennedy.
In 1980 Paul O'Connor was interviewed by David Lifton for Best Evidence: The Research Video (1990). He also appeared in the television documentary, The Men Who Killed Kennedy. In the episode, The Cover-Up (1988), O'Connor told Nigel Turner that when he opened the casket, Kennedy was a body bag. This was different to the way the corpse had been prepared for removal from Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.
Paul O'Connor was interviewed by William Matson Law for his book, In the Eye of History: Disclosures in the JFK Assassination Medical Evidence. O'Connor told Law: "We found out, while the autopsy was proceeding, that he was shot from a high building, which meant the bullet had to be traveling in a downward trajectory and we also realized that this bullet - that hit him in the back - is what we called in the military a "short shot," which means that the powder in the bullet was defective so it didn't have the power to push the projectile - the bullet-clear through the body. If it had been a full shot at the angle he was shot, it would have come out through his heart and through his sternum."
Paul O'Connor died in August, 2006.
Law: How many autopsies have you done or assisted?
O'Connor: Probably at that time fifty to sixty.
Law: You knew what you were doing when you were in there?
Law: Do you feel that you got an opportunity to follow a normal autopsy?
O'Connor: On the brain?
Law: On any of it.
Law: What was different about it?
O'Connor: Number one, as I said before, the wound was so massive inside of his head there was hardly any brain matter left. There was no brain really. There was no brain really for us, for myself, to take out. There was no need for me to open up the cranium because the cranium was completely shattered. When I say "shattered," not only was the brain blown open, where nothing was left, but the rest of t he cranium - the skull cap - was totally fractured. By "totally fractured," I mean it was comminuted. Comminution means if you took a hard-boiled egg and dropped it on the floor, there are hundreds of fractures in the shell and that's the way the president's skull was. It was just malleable - moved back and forth - and what was left of the cranium was completely shattered. His right eye, as I remember, was poked completely out of the orbit, the eye casing. I remember that Dr. Boswell and I looked into the back of the cranium, looking towards the front, and the orbit-the bony casing around where the eye sits was completely fractured.
Law: When you saw there was no brain, what took place then?
O'Connor: It got very tense. Admiral Galloway started getting very agitated again, because there was a wound in his neck. Now the wound - and of course I had seen tracheotomies, where you make an incision and you make it up to down to put in a tube to help a person breathe-the wound was a big gash and more horizontal-and I remember the doctors were going to check that out when Admiral Galloway told them, "Leave it alone. Don't touch it. It's just a tracheotomy".
Law: So he basically stopped anyone from going further?
O'Connor: He stopped anybody from going further. Drs. Humes and Boswell, Dr. Finck, were told to leave it alone, let's go to other things.
Law: Now you've seen tracheotomies before. You've dealt with them. What was your thought when you saw that? The hole in the president's throat that was said to be a tracheotomy?
O'Connor: It looked very sloppy, very nasty, very ugly. Usually a tracheotomy is made with a very sharp, pointed knife and it's very clean. This tracheotomy, or so called tracheotomy was all macerated and torn apart, and it went this way, both sides, which is very dangerous. If you do a tracheotomy across the throat, you stand a chance of killing a person, because you have on each side of the trachea two large arteries, the carotid arteries, and right beside them are the jugular veins. Arteries run the blood up into the brain and the jugular veins run the blood down back into the heart and lungs. If you make a horizontal incision, you stand a good chance of severing those arteries, which would make a person bleed to death immediately.
Law: Having been told to leave the tracheotomy alone, what happened next?
O'Connor: When we started an autopsy, the first thing we always did - and we never deviated from our procedures-was to weigh and measure the body. We'd check for any scars, contusions, any abnormalities, and so on. But, in this case, we didn't turn the body over to look at the back while we were doing that. Finally we turned the body over, and there was a bullet wound-an entrance wound-in his back, on the right side of his spinal column. To emphasize where it was in proximity to the rest of his body: if you bend your neck down and feel back, you feel a lump and that's the seventh cervical vertebra. This bullet wound was about three inches down and an inch or two to the right of the seventh cervical vertebra. I remember that there was a big gush of surprise that nobody had' actually thought about turning him over right away, you know after we had done our initial investigation of the president's body. Dr. Humes took his finger and poked it in the hole - the bullet-wound hole, the entrance-wound hole- and said it didn't go anywhere. There was a very big argument, a lot of consternation, that he shouldn't have stuck his finger in the hole.
Law: What difference would it make?
O'Connor: Well, when you take your finger and stick it into a bullet wound, you avulse the wound, which means that you make the wound abnormal.
Law: You think that happened when he stuck his finger in the back?
Law: Could it have created a false track?
O'Connor: Well, not necessarily a false track as much as a false impression of the entrance of the missile that went into his back.
Law: Who was arguing?
O'Connor: Dr. Finck had come over from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He was a forensic pathologist and he strongly objected to Commander Humes doing what he did. He took a sound. Now a sound is a probe, a metal malleable, non-rigid probe. Malleable means you can move it hack and forth and bend it a little bit and trace a bullet path through the body. Now, there are high-powered weapons that will drive a bullet straight through a body and a rigid probe will trace its path all the way through. We started out with a rigid probe and found that it only went in so far. I'd say maybe an inch and a quarter. It didn't go any further than that. So we used a malleable probe and bent it a little bit and found out that the bullet entered the body, went through the intercostal muscles - the muscles in between the ribs. The bullet went in through the muscles, didn't touch any of the ribs, arched downwards, hit the back of the pleural cavity, which encases the lungs, both front and back. It bounced off that cavity and stopped. It actually went down and stopped. Went through the ribs and stopped (photo 10). So we didn't know the track of the bullet until we eviscerated the body later. That's what happened at that time. We traced the bullet path down and found out it didn't traverse the body. It did not go in one side and come out the other side of the body.
Law: You can be reasonably sure of that?
Law: It was just from the probe then?
O'Connor: Oh yes.
Law: And these doctors knew that?
Law: While it happened?
O'Connor: Absolutely. And another thing, we found out, while the autopsy was proceeding, that he was shot from a high building, which meant the bullet had to be traveling in a downward trajectory and we also realized that this bullet - that hit him in the back - is what we called in the military a "short shot," which means that the powder in the bullet was defective so it didn't have the power to push the projectile - the bullet-clear through the body. If it had been a full shot at the angle he was shot, it would have come out through his heart and through his sternum.
Law: After you traced the wound, what happened then?
O'Connor: After that, we looked at the head wound and found that there were no bullets in the cranium. Minute fragments were scattered through the bone area of the cranium front and back. I remember distinctly because, having worked in funeral homes since I was thirteen years old, I had seen bullet wounds before, and also I served in Vietnam and saw bullet wounds there. It looked to me like a bomb had exploded inside his brain and blew out the whole side of his head. I've never seen a more horrendous destruction of the cranium, unless it was done by a very high caliber weapon. I found out later that it was done by a Mannlicher Carcano - a cheap Italian rifle - just about what I would call a thirty caliber or a thirty-thirty caliber rifle.
Law: In your opinion is it capable of doing that kind of damage?
O'Connor: Absolutely not.
Law: Now, in talking to some of the other fellows who were with you, some of your colleagues, I'm struck with the fact that all of you know bits and pieces. It's like you're all on different frequencies. You all noticed different things. Did you all get together at one point and shared any kind of information? I mean early on, not years later. I'm talking about within that week, within a few days?
O'Connor: No. What happened was - that took place on a Friday, of course, he was buried on the Monday and on Tuesday of that next week we were called into Captain Stover's office - who was one of the commanders of the Naval Medical School - where we were instructed and told that we were going to sign orders of silence under the penalty of general court martial, and other dreadful things like going to prison, if we talked to anybody about anything that happened that night. Period.
Law: So you were threatened basically with being thrown in jail?
O'Connor: In prison.
Law: In prison if you talked about this to anybody?
O'Connor: To anybody. Now that was the worst experience of my life. The Kennedy assassination autopsy was bad. But that scared me to death because I was a good loyal navy hospital corpsman, had done nothing wrong and was thrown into a situation that I couldn't control. And all of a sudden I was told that if I was to say something to anybody, anybody - and they left that wide open anybody-that, if found out, we'd go to prison and be dishonorably discharged from the navy.
Law: So what happened to you in the years after? Did you think about this often? Did it affect your life? Did you have nightmares from this experience?
Law: Did you just forget about it?
O'Connor: I forgot about it. Matter of fact 1 put it completely out of my mind. I knew what I had to do. I didn't want to go to prison. I wanted to continue my navy career. So I kept my mouth shut and continued my navy career.
Law: So what happened-when did you first-who did you first reveal this to-that you had been involved in this, and how did these circumstances come about?
O'Connor: Actually I was married soon after school and transferred to a naval base in Florida, and I mentioned it briefly to my wife. I was scared to death to do that, but I did. I figure a husband and wife have the most intimate secrets in the world they can share with each other without anybody knowing anything about them, so that's what we did. She was a little bit doubtful about what I was talking about, but she didn't say anything and I didn't say anything else anymore.
Law: So what happened - did you get calls over the years? Did anyone know who you were? How did it come about that people knew who you were?
O'Connor: Well, after I was stationed in southern Florida, I got orders to go to Vietnam in 1965. And I served with the United States Marine Corps in combat over in Vietnam, was wounded in Vietnam and eventually was discharged medically from service. After I was out of the service, I knew I could talk to anybody I wanted to about it, because the military had no sway over me. But, I never said anything, because I didn't think anyone would believe anything I had to say about seeing this. So I didn't say anything for years, until the mid-seventies I think. Correct me if I'm wrong-the Freedom of Information Act was passed and my name was released with the files and all the autopsy crew. I started getting calls from people all over the United States and Canada and Europe. They wanted to talk about what I saw during the Kennedy autopsy. A lot of them were very strange people, what we call cuckoos and nuts. A lot of them were very honest people, with a lot of integrity. I finally started talking to an author who was going to write a book on the assassination named David Lifton. We corresponded for, I guess, over a year or so, before he came out with a book on the Kennedy assassination, which opened up new chapters for me because I found out through talking to other people, who were ordered to keep silent, that a lot of things weren't right.
Law: As far as?
O'Connor: The autopsy, the bullet wounds, the massive destruction of the cranium. I was able to talk to the doctors in Parkland Hospital in Dallas several years later. We collaborated and talked about our experiences: Parkland vs. Bethesda.
Law: Did you do this on your own?
O'Connor: No. Actually we were brought together by different groups. Mr. Lifton and other people who were getting more interested in the idiosyncrasies of what had happened at that time. There was a group that started a big conference in Dallas back in the seventies, late seventies I guess it was, or early eighties, I can't remember really. That's when we found out-when the Dallas doctors and I got together-that something was terribly, terribly wrong between Parkland and Bethesda. What they saw in Parkland-what they did in Parkland-did not jibe with what we saw in Bethesda. What astounded me was the doctor who first got to JFK in the emergency room in Parkland said he had a bullet wound-an entrance wound-in his throat.
Law: Was he adamant that it was an entrance wound?
O'Connor: Adamant. Very. He had been an emergency room physician at Parkland for a number of years, treated a multitude of gunshot wounds. He knew what an entrance wound looked like, knew what an exit wound looked like. Entrance goes in small and neat and comes out big and nasty. If it comes out; a lot of them don't. He explained to me that he saw a bullet wound in the president's throat and made an incision through the bullet wound into his trachea to insert the enforceable tube to inflate his lungs. They worked on that They did several life-saving procedures for quite a long time. I guess several, maybe five or ten, minutes, until a neurosurgeon declared the president dead. According to the Dallas doctors, the wound they saw was approximately this big and the wound we saw in Bethesda was this big, and so we were both in a kind of state of complete puzzlement at what had been going on. You know what happened? Did something happen between Parkland hospital and Bethesda? Then I found out that the casket I saw come into our morgue in Bethesda wasn't the same coffin that he was put in at Parkland to ship to Bethesda. He was put into a bronze, ornate casket at Parkland that came from the O'Neal's Funeral Home. I found out also - which was amazing-that the Secret Service and the Dallas police department almost had a gun battle on who the body belonged to. Did it belong to the State of Texas or the United States Government? Well, actually it belonged to the State of Texas because the president was killed, murdered in the State of Texas. They had a big fight. There were no guns drawn, but a friend of mine-can't remember his name now, he was the ambulance driver...
O'Connor: Aubrey Rike. He was an ambulance driver for the O'Neal Funeral Home. They were at Parkland at the time the body was brought in and they were told to call Mr. O'Neal at the Funeral Home and have him bring his best, most expensive, casket to Parkland Hospital, post haste. When they got it there, Aubrey Rike told me they put him in a bed liner. Now a bed liner is something that goes over a bed-it's a plastic covering that keeps bodily fluids from bleeding into the mattress. It's not a body bag. A body bag is a bag that a body is put into and zipped from the head to the toe. He was wrapped in sheets around his chest and his torso, and when we received him he was not in a bed liner. He was in a body bag, but nothing wrapped around his torso. It was an unclothed body The only thing on his body was a bloody sheet around his head. So that was another thing that was extremely disturbing to hear about.
Law: Flow did that make you feel?
O'Connor: That somebody somewhere high up in government - it had to be the government - was concealing evidence, vital evidence, from the American public about what actually transpired between Parkland and Bethesda.